Greyson Chance became a sensation on Ellen DeGeneres’ show and went on to be the first artist the talk-show host signed to her own record label. Now his debut album, executive-produced by DeGeneres, can be summed up in two sentences.
Yep, he’s 13. And yep, he’s morose.
If the music industry was looking for a Justin Bieber for tween depressives, Chance is their man. Or boy. It’s hard to imagine that any 13-year-old in history has made music any more depressing or downbeat than the lovelorn ballads that fill “Hold on ‘Til the Night,” which Interscope is releasing in partnership with DeGeneres’ new eleveneleven imprint.
Chance made his mark on pop culture in 2010 with a homemade video of his solo piano cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” filmed when he was a lad of 12. At last count, the video was up to almost 42 million views on YouTube. His “Paparazzi” upped the sense of melodrama-queen theatricality inherent in Gaga’s tune to an almost hilariously precocious level.
But if there was a slight joke to how mature Chance seemed covering Gaga, his producers and writers don't seem to be in on it. They set to work on the kid’s debut thinking there should be as much drama and sense of do-or-die occasion in every tune he recorded. So we get an album in which his still-high voice is put to work in the service of world-weary laments. The target audience must be beaten-down contemporaries of Chance’s who have loved and lost a lot since they started their dating lives at 8 or 9.
The first lines of the songs offer clues to the kind of downer-fest fans are in for: “My heart beats a little bit slower/These nights are a little bit colder/Now that you’re gone…” “Late at night I start to think about the things I did wrong…” “Watching the minute hand/Frozen solid not moving…” “You’ll never enjoy your life…” “I really thought you were the one/It was over before it begun…” (Chance’s English teacher will have a field day with that one.)
Bieber sings breakup songs, too, but at least “Baby” didn’t sound like cause to break out the kiddie Lexapro, and the lyrics sound like they were written from the perspective of someone experiencing a first breakup, not a middle-aged guy drowning his sorrows. Chance’s new single, “Unfriend You,” has the social-media connotations of the title to actually tie it to teen-hood. But the “Viva la Vida”-style strings make the song sound distinctly adult-contemporary and as age-inappropriate as the rest of this collection’s dull arrangements.
Through it all, you get the sense of being at someone’s home where the host parents have dressed an overachiever kid up in adult clothes and asked the poor savant to belt out a Judy Garland tune before bedtime. Precocity for its own sake can be fun at a party — or not — but it’s wearisome as a career tactic.
Chance obviously has talent beyond his years, even if it’s hard to figure which side of the divide his post-pubescent voice will land on. (He turns 14 later this month.) He deserves a chance to act his age … or even within a decade of his age.
If “Hold on ‘Til the Night” doesn’t completely bum out everyone who took to him on “Ellen,” and Chance can hold on 'til album No. 2, maybe his mentor could have him record some material she could actually dance across a table to.